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 Setting: Where & What

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Jae Baeli
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Number of posts : 103
Age : 55
LOCATION : Denver, CO
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FAVORITE AUTHORS : Dean Koontz, Jeff Lindsey, Laramie Dunaway,Darian North, Richard Dawkins, Raymond Obstfeld
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Registration date : 2008-11-22

PostSubject: Setting: Where & What   Thu Dec 04, 2008 3:55 pm

Sometimes setting is something that comes first, sometimes last. As a rule, I have chosen setting according to the type of story I was telling, and who the characters were. I would need the environment to work in tandem with my plot, and that often requires specific elements that must be chosen carefully. I have found that usually after deciding on the setting, researching it will reveal other things that help me move through some stumbling block in the plot. (See my post on Writer's Block UNblocked).

The first thing to understand about setting, is that you are providing a framework for the imagination of your reader. Inside this framework, the characters will reside, and it's important for your reader to be able to visualize, with the clues you provide, the characters within that setting.

The way to do this is not in overwhelming detail, but in succinct, well-chosen words that bring that setting alive. You will have many opportunities in a novel-length work to expound on that setting, and it's best to confine your descriptions to what matters in that particular scene.

For instance, in Baggage, I provided a vivid setting for this scene:

Quote :
Sounds of shattering glass came from the foyer. The formidable Katrina was hammering at the front of the mansion, morphing into a beast that clawed at the rafters, pounded at the flooring, and made promises to inflict still more.

In this, the reader gets not only the visual, but the emotional aspects of the hurricane. Using the analogy of a beast, the reader understands the fearful nature of it, and can then invest in the fear of the character.

A few paragraphs later, I gave another segment of descriptive setting to further compound the fear:

Quote :
The compromised portions of the house were revealed with every slap of wind and rain. As the storm bullied on, moaning its feral incantation, the window beside the attic stairs blasted inward, shards of glass spattering to the hardwood floor, as Katrina sneezed into the opening.

Note the continued analogy to a beast, which adds a visceral quality to the scene.

In another book, Somewhere Else, I use a completely different type of visual; one focused on outdoor scenery over a large scale:

Quote :
Bryce Canyon was not technically a canyon at all. Erosion from a central stream was not the cause of the amphitheater shape of its gargantuan nooks and crannies. This was caused by headward erosion, which formed rust-colored apogees called hoodoos, reaching like mottled dirt-fingers, almost 200 feet high.

Aside from being breathtakingly beautiful, Bryce Canyon also played host to the oldest living things on Earth: trees that sprouted 1600 years ago.

This is where your research should come in. You should have learned much more than you share, because what you share is a decision based on the needs of the scene. Here, I needed just enough for the reader to see what the character saw, and then moved on to other things. It is not necessary to spend several pages detailing everything about the setting. These things should be meted out judiciously, according to what describes the setting, while best allowing the story to move forward.

You must have a clear idea of where your characters need to be, in order for the story to unfold. If your character is a hiker, the setting would need to be in a place where hikers go--such as the state park described above. If your character is a weary executive, the setting would be a smartly decorated office, perhaps, to include the items in it that might reveal something about your character: certain paintings, certain items on the desk, certain photos that represent who is important to him.

Above all, the setting must seem real. Even if you're writing science fiction or fantasy, wherein the environment is not common or completely new, you must imbue it with enough detail to give the reader a way to form a clear picture of what that environment is like.

Either way, if you need examples, pull out those favorite books you have on a shelf and examine the ways that author described the setting. Try to discern why it worked for YOU as reader, and then translate that method into your own writing.

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